Documents & Records
General Register of Chinese Immigration
The General Register of Chinese Immigration is a very important resource for Chinese-Canadian genealogical research.
The register was created in Ottawa, and was based on records submitted by immigration officials at various ports. It spans the period from 1885-1949, and theoretically lists all immigrants of Chinese ancestry who arrived in Canada during that period. There are some entries for arrivals dating back as early as 1860.
Although the Register is sometimes known as the "head tax" records, not every individual documented in the registers paid head tax. In some cases, Chinese migrants were travelling through Canada to an onward destination, or returning following an absence and therefore not required to pay.
In total, this series of records includes eighteen ledgers documenting the arrival of about 97,000 immigrants. The records are arranged in numerical order, based on a Serial Number assigned by Ottawa.
The records are also in rough chronological order according to the year of the immigrants' arrival in Canada. Since the General Register was derived from port registers submitted by immigration officials at various ports of entry, sometimes the register from one port was entered into the General Register before that of another port with records compiled at earlier dates but not received by Ottawa until later. The records are similarly in rough order, by the declaration number assigned at the port and the number of any certificate that was issued, such as the head tax receipt.
Detailed information was recorded about each individual. Column numbers and headings used in the General Register varied slightly over time but the following, from 1885, is typical:
2. Port No. of Statement and Declaration
4. Port or Place Where Registered
5. Date of Registration
6. C.I. 5
7. C.I. 6
8. Fee Paid - Amount
Place of Birth
11. City or Village
13. Province &c.
14. Title, Official Rank, Profession or Occupation
15. Last Place of Domicile
Arrival in Canada
16. Port or Place of
17. Name of Vessel, Railway or Other Conveyance
18. Date of
19. Physical Marks or Peculiaries
Beginning February 2, 1910, the "Remarks" column included a new heading, "Expects to reside in". From this date in the record each entry in the register indicates the immigrant's intended eventual destination in Canada.
Researchers must keep in mind that entries in the General Register of Chinese Immigration were created by federal officials, who were unfamiliar with Chinese names, and probably wrote them down simply as they heard them. Moreoever, film quality is sometimes poor, making the records difficult to read.
For more details see the archival inventory description of the General Register of Chinese Immigration in the General Inventory on the Library and Archives Canada website.
Finding the Records
The best way to find an individual record in the General Register is to refer to the date that appears on the C.I.5 receipt, issued when the head tax was paid. The certificate number and declaration number, both of which appear on the head tax receipt, also provide useful clues. However, the Serial Number assigned by Ottawa to each record and which governs their order does NOT appear on the head tax receipt. For more information on certificates issued by the Chief Controller of Chinese Immigration, see Chinese Immigration Certificates.
If you don't have a head tax receipt, the only way to find a record is to review entries in the General Register one by one. This is because there is no index. It is very helpful if you know the date that the person arrived in Canada. If you have the year and if possible the month, it can narrow your search considerably, since the records are in rough chronological order.
At the Vancouver Public Library
The General Register of Chinese Immigration has been microfilmed by the Library and Archives Canada and is on 7 reels of microfilm, which are available at the Vancouver Public Library.
Records are arranged on the films in rough chronological order. There are two series of films, C-9510 to C-9513 (4 reels) and T-3484 to T-3486 (3 reels). Sections are less clearly delineated in the "T" series.
The following film notes may be helpful:
The first part of the microfilm does not contain records from the General Register of Chinese Immigration, but rather of a Register of Chinese Immigration, compiled at the Port of New Westminster.
The remainder of C-9510 comprises a portion of the General Register of Chinese Immigration, from its beginning in 1885. There are 13,125 records divided into 3 sections:
|Nos. 1 - 4950 (RG 76 Vol. 694)||September 1, 1885 - August 2, 1889|
|Nos. 4951 - 9975 (RG 76 Vol. 695)||August 2, 1889 - July 2, 1891|
|Nos. 9976 - 13125 (RG 76 Vol. 696)||July 2, 1891 - April , 1892||The title card for the final section indicates that records up to No. 14950 are included. However, the sequence is broken at 13,125, and continues on film C-9511.|
Most of the records on this reel do not provide additional information in the "Remarks" column. Some exceptions towards the beginning provide notes regarding eventual destination, e.g. "Goes to Seattle", "Goes to Pt. Townsend", "Goes to San Francisco". Individuals continuing on to the U.S. did not pay head tax.
There are 18,124 records divided into 5 sections.
|Nos. 9976 - 14950 (RG 76 Vol. 696)||April , 1892 - October 31, 1892||The title card for this section indicates that record Nos. 9976 - 14950 are included. However, the records on this reel actually begin with 13101. The first section of RG 76 Vol. 696 (Nos. 9976-13125) is on reel C-9510.
The first page of entries (Nos. 13101-13125) are a duplicate of the last page of entries on film C-9510.
|Nos. 14951 - 18725 (RG 76 Vol. 697)||November 22, 1892 - September 26, 1894|
|Nos. 18726 - 22500 (RG 76 Vol. 698)||September 26, 1894 - September 23, 1896|
|Nos. 22501 - 26275 (RG 76 Vol. 699)||September 23, 1896 - June 18, 1898|
|Nos. 26276 - 27225 (RG 76 Vol. 700)||June 18, 1898 - September 21, 1898||The title card for this section indicates that records up to No. 31225 are included. However, the sequence is broken at No. 27225 and continues on film C-9512.|
|Nos. 27201 - 31225 (RG 76 Vol. 700)||September 21, 1898 - August 9, 1899||The title card for this section indicates that record Nos. 26276-31225 are included. However, the records on this reel begin with No. 27201. The first section of RG 76 Vol. 700 (Nos. 26276-27225) is on reel C-9511.
The first page of entries (Nos. 27201-27225) is a duplicate of the last page of entries on film C-9511.
|Nos. 41251 - 46275 (RG 76 Vol. 703)||June 25, 1902 - June 24, 1903||These records were apparently filmed out of order at this point in the sequence. The title card says that this section includes record Nos. 31336-36250 (RG 76 Vol. 701). However, the records that follow have a completely different sequence of numbers (as indicated above). Records 31336 - 36250 are on film C-9513.|
|Nos. 36251-41250 (RG 76 Vol. 702)||October 17, 1900 - June 25, 1902|
|Nos. 31226 - 36350 (RG 76 Vol. 701)||August 9, 1899 - October 10, 1900||See notes for film C-9512. These records were apparently missed in filming and therefore appear out-of-sequence.
The title card says that this section includes record Nos. 41251-46275 (RG 76 Vol. 703. However, the records that follow have a completely different sequence of numbers (as indicated above). Records 41251-46275 are on reel C-9512.
Films in the "T" series include several pages of retakes. Retakes immediately follow originals and are clearly indicated.
|June 24, 1903 -
December 27, 1903
|December 27, 1903 -
May 1, 1909
|May 1, 1909 -
February 9, 1911
|Beginning with record No. 58051 (February 2, 1911), the "Remarks" column includes a new heading "Expects to reside in." From this date, records indicate the immigrant's eventual destination in Canada.
This ledger continues on
|February 18, 1911 - April 14, 1911|
|April 14, 1911 - May 11, 1912|
|May 11, 1912 - May 11, 1913|
|May 11, 1913 - March 8, 1914||Record Nos. 83251-86075 of ledger 16 are on reel T-3486.|
|March 8, 1914 - April 1, 1918||Continues reel T-3485.|
|April 2, 1918 - May 11, 1921|
|May 11, 1921- September 29, 1949|
Library and Archives Canada has digitized and created a searchable online index to the General Registers of Chinese Immigration in its Immigrants from China database